My favourite WB Yeats poem: Mike Scott on 'News for the Delphic Oracle'

Mike Scott of The Waterboys talks about the fabulous words of 'News for the Delphic Oracle', his favourite Yeats poem

Photograph: Margaret O'Neill

Photograph: Margaret O'Neill

 
Why Mike Scott chose this poem
 
It is full of fabulous words: “codgers”, “Pythagoras”, “Plotinus”, “intolerable”, “bum”, “nymphs”, “satyrs”, “copulate”. It is otherwordly, golden, mythical. Dolphins that laugh, an ocean that sighs for love and, in its final passage, a visceral evocation of the god Pan, complete with sex amid the elements. It is eternity in three darkly flowing verses, a slice of mastery wildly ahead of its time in the 1930s and still ahead of its time today. I wonder what priests made of it then. I don’t give a fig what they make of it now.
 
Mike Scott is founder of The Waterboys
 
 

News for the Delphic Oracle

 
There all the golden codgers lay,
There the silver dew,
And the great water sighed for love,
And the wind sighed too.
Man-picker Niamh leant and sighed
By Oisin on the grass;
There sighed amid his choir of love
Tall Pythagoras.
Plotinus came and looked about,
The salt-flakes on his breast,
And having stretched and yawned awhile
Lay sighing like the rest.
 
Straddling each a dolphin’s back
And steadied by a fin
Those Innocents re-live their death,
Their wounds open again.
The ecstatic waters laugh because
Their cries are sweet and strange,
Through their ancestral patterns dance,
And the brute dolphins plunge
Until in some cliff-sheltered bay
Where wades the choir of love
Proffering its sacred laurel crowns,
They pitch their burdens off. 
 

Slim adolescence that a nymph has stripped,
Peleus on Thetis stares.
Her limbs are delicate as an eyelid,
Love has blinded him with tears;
But Thetis' belly listens.
Down the mountain walls
From where pan's cavern is
Intolerable music falls.
Foul goat-head, brutal arm appear,
Belly, shoulder, bum,
Flash fishlike; nymphs and satyrs
Copulate in the foam.

 

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